Sporting KC: Peter Vermes needs to be careful

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 18: Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes yells out to his players during the US Open Cup Quarterfinal soccer match between Sporting KC and Houston Dynamo on July 18, 2018 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 18: Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes yells out to his players during the US Open Cup Quarterfinal soccer match between Sporting KC and Houston Dynamo on July 18, 2018 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Sporting KC crashed out of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday in a 4-2 loss to the Houston Dynamo. After the defeat, Peter Vermes questioned the attitude of a couple of his players. He needs to be very careful.

Rewind no more than two or three weeks and you would have found quite a few analysts, fans and even personnel in the league that would tell you that Sporting Kansas City were the best team in MLS.

After a somewhat turbulent start to the season in which a formerly stifling defence had grown leaky, Sporting KC had steadied the ship magnificently, rediscovered their defensively dominant identity and added an element of midfield control and goals in attack, the latter of which they had been desperately lacking in previous seasons.

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In steadying the ship, KC were flying, or floating along rather quickly, as the analogy goes. Playing fast-breaking football, fizzing the ball through the different phases of play, carving open teams with fluid and dynamic movement and cohesive passing, all allied by the continuation of a secure and stable defence, they looked like one of the best teams in the league.

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And now, they have slipped into third position in the Western Conference, and could drop behind Portland Timbers if the Timbers earn just four points from their three games in hand, are suffering a crisis in confidence and dressing-room cohesion, and have now crashed out of the U.S. Open Cup, a competition they were looking to defend after their victory last season.

The latest loss, a 4-2 hammering to the Houston Dynamo in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, was the most damning. The scoreline, in all reality, is kind on KC, and the performance of the team was lacking basic and necessary qualities like effort, desire, and commitment.

Those qualities were quizzed by Peter Vermes, who, in his media interviews after the disastrous defeat, questioned whether some of his players showed them in the match:

"“I think a couple of guys gave up in the game. They’re going to find themselves very, very, very, very, very far away from the team and trying to get back in. They’re going to have to do some real proving. It’s not just my evaluation. It’s other players’ [evaluations] as well. Our team and our club is not built on that type of attitude. That won’t be tolerated.”"

From a purely external perspective in watching the game, certainly, Vermes’ comments do carry some validity. KC not only played poorly, but they didn’t look as though they were trying for large portions of the game. Foundational elements of the game like covering ground, tracking runners, pressing the opposition, tackling, challenging for headers, movement off the ball in possession, elements that are not complex or technically difficult but do require physical effort and commitment, were difficult to find.

Vermes wasn’t willing to name names. Obviously. And smartly. But he does need to be careful. Scrutinising your player’s commitment, even if it is valid scrutiny, in a public setting as Vermes so openly did here, is a risky move. It is very easy to lose the dressing room when you do so, even for a coach as experienced and revered as Vermes. And the last thing that Vermes needs, as this season threatens to spiral down the whirlpool of crisis, is to lose the dressing room.

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Vermes may be vindicated in his questioning of Sporting KC’s commitment. It certainly looks like it after watching the game on Wednesday. But he still needs to tread carefully. Players are fragile and hurting and criticising them in public only harms your authority and influence as a coach. That’s precisely what Vermes cannot afford to happen.